"The whole thing was such a shock, because it came out of nowhere." A public letter, tears and the Finnish Prime Minister: inside the crazy day Nightwish parted ways with Tarja Turunen

Nightwish in 2005
(Image credit: Mick Hutson/Redferns)

In 2005, Nightwish seemed unstoppable. A year after the symphonic metal sensations had released their defining 2004 album, Once, they’d exploded across Europe, supported Iron Maiden and headed off on their biggest tour to date, playing to thousands of fans every night. 

On October 21 that year, the band rolled into Helsinki for what should have been a triumphant homecoming. For the 12,000 fans gathered at Helsinki’s sold-out Hartwall Arena, it was a flawless showcase from a band fast becoming one of the biggest names in metal – but, behind the scenes, it was a different story. Unknown to fans, tensions had been rising for months and were about to boil over in the most dramatic of fashions. 

Immediately after the Helsinki show, Nightwish headed backstage where they presented then-vocalist Tarja Turunen with a now-infamous open letter… and fired her.

The letter stated: “Nightwish is a band, it’s an emotion. To you, unfortunately, business, money and things that have nothing to do with those emotions have become much more important.”

Reviewing the letter, which was published on the Nightwish website, almost 20 years later, it feels like an unnecessarily public read. “You have said yourself that you are merely a ‘guest musician’ in Nightwish,” it continues. “Now that visit ends and we will continue Nightwish with a new female vocalist. We’re sure this is an equally big relief to you as it is for us. We have all been feeling bad long enough.”

Accusing Tarja of missing soundchecks, distancing herself from her bandmates and putting her solo ambitions above the band, the note also blamed her changed “attitude and behaviour” on interference from her manager and husband, Marcelo Cabuli. These are all claims Tarja and Marcelo strenuously denied.

Five days after the show, Tarja published her own open bewildered letter, likening the split to a “divorce”. She claims she was blindsided. “While there would have been so many different possibilities and ways to express what they wanted to tell me with the letter, I remain unable to understand the way they chose to handle this,” said Tarja. “I am sorry that the guys got me so wrong. I don’t recognize myself at all from the way they described me.” 

In a joint Q&A with Marcelo in 2006, the vocalist shot down the diva-ish presentation of her in the Nightwish letter, stating she had preferred the privacy of her own dressing room on tour and had travelled by plane separately from the band because she couldn’t sleep on a smoky, boozy tour bus. 

It’s difficult to overstate just what a massive deal this was at the time. Second only to the fallout when Metallica fired Dave Mustaine in 1983, even now, the drama can still ignite an online forum. With her open letter apparently not enough to satiate the media frenzy, Tarja called a tearful press conference, surrounded by rows of microphones. Things got so big that, at one point, even then-Finnish prime minister Matti Vanhanen was called on for a comment. “I’m not for either side,” came his even-handed response. “They are young people and hopefully will manage to go forward in this difficult situation.”  

“The whole thing was such a shock, because it came out of nowhere – I never expected anything like that, and neither did my husband,” Tarja told Hammer in 2016. “The Earth was shaking, everything was shaking, and we were both crying for two weeks.”

She continued: “It was following me every day for the next couple of weeks, and the TV cameras were outside my door in Buenos Aires. I couldn’t even get outside of my apartment. It wasn’t easy.”

The drama would retain its heat for a few years. In 2007, Nightwish’s sixth album, Dark Passion Play, featured the track and open Tarja diss Bye Bye Beautiful, which included the lyric: “You chose the long road, but we’ll be waiting.” 

If you rewatch the Helsinki show, which had been filmed for a live DVD and released with the stinging title The End Of An Era, signs of turmoil are easy to spot. A clearly distraught Tuomas Holopainen even holds his head in his hands at the end of set closer If I Had An Angel. The keyboardist told German magazine Orkus in 2005: “My conscience is clear as to the way it all went down.” In a 2022 interview with Hammer, though, he conceded, “It should have been dealt with so much better”. 

Now, almost 20 years later, the ex-bandmates are on friendly or at least civil terms. This year, Tarja reunited with now-former Nightwish bassist Marco Hietala for a tour and the single Left On Mars, while she and Tuomas have exchanged emails over the years. “Even though the wounds are still there on both sides, things are better,” Tuomas told us in 2022. 

In 2024, both Nightwish and Tarja have left their beef long behind them and are more successful than ever. The band continued to climb with replacement singer Anette Olzen and current frontwoman Floor Jansen, while their former vocalist is remaining open-minded about the future. Asked in a 2022 interview with music critic Regis Tadeu and Top Link Music manager Paulo Baron if she would ever consider sharing the stage with her former band again, she gave old school fans something to hope for, replying: “I mean, I can’t really close any doors in that sense; I’m not that kind of person any longer. I learned so many things in this life already. I take them as they are.”

Dannii Leivers

Danniii Leivers writes for Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Prog, The Guardian, NME, Alternative Press, Rock Sound, The Line Of Best Fit and more. She loves the 90s, and is happy where the sea is bluest.